This isn’t an original thought but I am going to pitch it here with vigor. Election Day should be an event Americans should commemorate, indeed even celebrate.
Thus, I am leaning heavily toward proposing a national holiday for the day we go to the polls to elect the leader of our government. I make this pitch partly out of frustration as well.
I spent a lot of years as a journalist trying to boost voter turnout on Election Day. It was an exercise in futility. I ran out of ways to say the same thing. We cheered when turnout at the national level exceeded, say, 55 percent when we chose our president. I consider that to be a disgraceful turnout. Fifty-five percent turnout among all Americans who are eligible to vote? That means more than 40 percent of those Americans don’t bother to cast their ballot.
Here’s my thought: Make Election Day every two years a national holiday. I include the midterm congressional election as deserving of this extra attention.
Why don’t people vote? I guess it’s for a variety of reasons. Frustration with the choices. A feeling that their vote doesn’t matter. Not enough time.
Ah, about that last item. The time element can be fixed by declaring a national holiday. Give working Americans the day off from work, the way we do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day.
We can remove one key barrier from Americans who might want to vote, but who say they don’t have the time, that their bosses won’t allow them to take a few moments to go cast their ballots.
I understand fully that we cannot give everyone a day off from work on Election Day. Medical personnel, police officers, firefighters, public utility workers all need to be on the job.
I much prefer the national holiday idea to other efforts to boost turnout, such as mail-in voting. I have noted many times already that I like the ritual associated with going to the polls, of waiting in line, of kibitzing with fellow voters. Mail-only voting has boosted turnout in many states — such as my home state of Oregon. I stand by my preference, though, to cast my ballot in a polling place.
I live in state, Texas, with a shamefully pitiful voting turnout. We tend to vote on everything here, so there might be some voter fatigue that suppresses turnout. I don’t know how to deal with that.
However, I want there to be a national push — for the midterm election and for the presidential election — to give this process the level of veneration it deserves.
Declaring Election Day to be a national holiday might do the trick.